The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ★★★½

Film #30 from My Hoop-tober 2.0 Halloween Marathon.

The first page of my notes on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 just says, “What the fuck?” I can’t remember what scene prompted me to write this. It could have been the baffling opening in which a geek wearing holographic glasses and a Princeton blazer leans out of a car window, firing an antique pistol at random. It could have been the hallucinatory assault sequence set on a bridge. It could have been any moment of the film, picked at random. The WTF vibe is deeply off-putting, but it’s also the source of the ballsy confidence of the film, a confidence that teeters just on the wrong side of mad genius.

I don’t know much about Tobe Hooper’s career; as such, I can’t imagine why this was the follow-up to the original Texas Chainsaw that emerged from his camera and his mind twelve years after the phenomenal success of the first film. Was he prompted to make this after Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars failed to make a profit? Was this sequel a passion project, or was it made to trade on the success of his previous hit, to take advantage of a recognizable property? After watching both Halloween II and Friday the 13th Part 2 in the span of three days - two films slavishly beholden to the successful formulas of their respective predecessors- it’s just mind-blowing how willing Massacre 2 is to establish a wildly different tone, to take the gritty snuff-film aesthetic of the first film and hold it up to a funhouse mirror in order to contort it into something cartoonish, something with a lunatic sense of humor, something both perversely commercial and also scornful of its precursor’s success. Tons of reviews of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 mention the film’s “dark humor” and “black comedy”; maybe I was in a different mind state, but the “comedy” here seems vulgar and self-loathing, a joke an addict makes during a binge and subsequently remembers the following hungover morning with a grimace that tastes like dry-swallowed aspirin.

At times this feels like the best Rob Zombie movie that Rob Zombie never actually made. Sure, some might argue that he made a whole career out of aping Hooper’s Chainsaw aesthetic in House of 1000 Corpses, but it runs way deeper than that. Maybe it’s the presence of Bill Moseley, or maybe it’s the bicycle horn he’s outfitted with, suggesting Zombie’s beloved Marx Brothers. Maybe it’s the evocation of a sweaty, deep-fried Southern aesthetic. “Texas Battle Land,” the amusement park setting of the finale of the film - with its scabbed and corroded textures, its skeletons and cobwebbed chandeliers illuminated by burnt amber lights drifting through (what I assume to be) human smoke - feels like a roadmap towards Captain Spaulding’s Horror Museum and Dr. Satan’s underground lair.

The performances here fit the tone of the film perfectly. Jim Siedow returns as the head of the cannibalistic clan, and his performance captures that wonderful, leering weirdness that manages to feel deeply upsetting (the bit in the first Texas Chainsaw when he taunts Sally and swats her with a broom should feel tame compared to everything else, but it remains uniquely troubling). Siedow looks like a Jack Davis drawing that’s come to life. Hopper’s Lt. "Lefty" Enright begins as a vengeful, taciturn crusader, pursuing justice for falling kin, but by the end of it he’s just as much of a lunatic as the other guy holding a chainsaw. There’s an extended sequence in which Hopper saws down beams with his comically phallic six-foot chainsaw while screaming shit like “I’LL BURY YOU DEVILS!!” The scene cuts to other business, the Sawyers preparing Stretch for something, and after what seems like maybe ten or twelve minutes it cuts back to Hopper and yeah, he’s still going apeshit on some structural beams while screaming his lunatic lungs out. I imagine that Hooper felt that this played as black comedy; instead, it comes across as acidic madness.

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